Usually for this piece I do a wrap up of all the latest transfer news and goings on from the SSE Airtricity League but there was one contract renewal that for me stood out among all others this week. That was the news that Raffaele Cretaro had signed on for a 17th season with Sligo Rovers. Incredible service from any player in this day and age but more important Raf as he is known is a local born and bred in Sligo. He is from Tubbercurry which is a small village in South Sligo. His father is originally from outside of Rome and yes, he does live up to the cliche in that the family business is a chipper! Cretaro played all of his youth football with his local club Real Tubber and was also a talented Gaelic player. In 2000 he was signed by then Rovers manager Tommy Cassidy for Rovers and soon made his debut. A versatile player he has played in every position except goals for the club. At the time of writing he is second in the all-time appearance list for the club and second on the all-time goal-scorer’s list. A true living legend of the club. He did spend two seasons away from the club as he had a season with Galway United and a season with Bohemian F.C. His season with Bohs was at the time a great move for a player at his peak who wanted to win trophies as they were the top side in the country at the time and Rovers had just been beaten in the FAI Cup Final by the now defunct Sporting Fingal.
It was a move he was to regret, and injury blighted his stay at Dalymount Park and Rovers went on to win both the FAI and EA Sports Cups. Which leads me to one of two stories that I will tell you about Raf a player I know since before he signed for the club. Cretaro returned to the club for the 2011 season and during the launch of our Europa League kit I remember seeing him being lost in thought watching the footage of the 2010 Cup Final win against Shamrock Rovers and you could see that it hurt him that he wasn’t involved in that game. The Gods of football though had other plans for Raf and we – I can use we as I was working for the club as Club Promotions Officer during this time – got to the Cup Final again that season. Again, it went to penalties and Raf got the winner erasing the hurt of having missed the season before. The following year we won the league bridging a 35-year gap and fittingly in the game that decided it went we beat St. Patrick’s Athletic 3-2 he scored the first two on the day. Which dovetails into my second story and sums up for me what a great character and man he is. The week leading up to the last game of the 2012 season when we were to be presented with the League trophy was one of the most intense I ever experienced. The demand for tickets, requests for jersies and footballs to be signed, sponsor demands, the logistics of the presentation and the open top bus route, come the middle of the week I was burned out, I remember it well, just had nothing left as the phone never stopped.
Anyways I got a nice pep talk from Joseph Ndo and a good night’s sleep with the phone turned off and was recharged! The game and presentation ran perfectly and after the game and after supporters had left, the players were getting ready to head into town. I usually stood outside the dressing room or in the tunnel. Anyways Raf saw me and called me over and gave me his jersey from the St. Pat’s game. He said he wanted to give it to me as I deserved it after all the work I had done for the players and the club that season. I was very touched and it it the most prized possession in my jersey collection. Raf it being awarded a testimonial as well next season and I am delighted to say I will be part of the organising committee, so you will be hearing more about it! His nickname is the ‘Tubbercurry Tornado’ and I am happy to say there is still plenty of wind in his sails.